Lessons from a London Bar

69 Colebrook RowIt has the feel of a bar that’s been in place forever, but 69 Colebrook Row in London has barely been open a year. Snugly fit on a quiet, mostly residential street, the bar is tiny – perhaps 25 seats. On a recent visit, it exuded mid-century class due to a phenomenal pianist who simply strolled in one day looking for a weekly gig. But people stream here for the drinks of Tony Conigliaro, who may be known as a mad mixological scientist, what with his roto-vapors, beakers and aging experiments that fill his upstairs laboratory, but whose cocktails are uniformly smooth, balanced, subtle and welcoming.

There’s a tendency in the U.S. toward cocktails that challenge the drinker, with acidity, bittering, astringency or potency – that’s not 69 Colebrook’s stock in trade. The aged cocktails – Tony C. mixes cocktails and then bottle-ages them – like the El Presidente take on a warming oxidized quality that may eventually define one of the next steps in the cocktail renaissance. Think Carpano with the edges rounded off.

I’m a longtime preacher that staff, not drinks, make the bar, and the 69 Colebrookers, with their tight white jackets, economical movements and friendly demeanor, provide not just classic cocktails but classic service. There are plenty of fine drinking establishments in London; few match the cozy glow emanating from this neat harbor.


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